Mid-Week Links: Decisions

Petaluma River

Clearly this is worse than an office park. Why would SMART ever want to move here? Photo by Andrew Storms

Marin County

  • SMART will consolidate its offices in a transit-unfriendly Petaluma office park, far from downtown and far from the city’s planned rail station. A finalist property was downtown but even transit agencies can fall victim to the siren song of sprawl. The lease is up in six years. (Press Democrat, NBBJ)
  • Norm Solomon has conceded the race for Congress to Republican Daniel Roberts, all but ensuring a smooth election for Assemblymember Jared Huffman to Lynn Woolsey’s seat. (Patch)
  • Golden Gate Transit, along with a host of other regional agencies, is hiking fares on buses and ferries on July 1. Drivers, alas, will keep paying the same tolls. (IJ, GGT)
  • People are excited about closing the Novato Narrows by adding carpool lanes, the least bad kind of freeway expansion. On the downside, it’ll suck ridership away from the other big transit project on that corridor, SMART. (IJ)
  • The San Rafael Street Painting Festival is may not return again this year, or any other year. The wildly popular festival closes down Fourth Street for a day but has proven to be a money-losing enterprise for Youth in Arts, the sponsoring nonprofit, and they’ve called it quits. (IJ)
  • Nobody likes waiting in line to exit the parking lot after the Marin County Fair, so why not take the bus instead? You could even park at your local Park & Ride. (GGT)
  • And…: GGT’s bus stops are now on Google Maps as the agency continues its new-found affinity for customer service. (Google) … A Marin City housing activist will not be evicted for hosting her dying mother after all. (IJ) … On the opposite end, a Belvedere couple bought and demolished a $4.2 million home to expand their views and, presumably, their yard. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • Healdsburg is getting serious about bike infrastructure now that its petition to be an official Bicycle Friendly Community has been rejected by the League of American Bicyclists. (Press Democrat)
  • Housing growth projections are notoriously difficult to get right, and the numbers ABAG is using for Plan Bay Area is complicated by internal and external politics to boot. (SF Public Press)
  • SFMTA has its proposed alternatives for the Geary Bus Rapid Transit line available to browse and comment. Though the current plan is to give only the 38-Limited access to the route, GGT’s Route 92 runs as a limited-stop service along Geary, so Marin City commuters stand to benefit from the process as well.  As well, Van Ness BRT has been approved has a preferred alternative, meaning one more step to better service for Muni, as well as GGT’s Routes 10, 70, 80, 93, 101, and 101X. (Streetsblog) [edited per Viktoriya Wise's correction.]
  • California High Speed Rail faces a major funding hurdle in Sacramento today. The Legislature needs to release $2.7 billion in bond money so construction can begin on the central part of the line in the Central Valley. But lawmakers have also released a Plan B that would focus the funds on LA and San Francisco improvements instead, and there’s always the chance that no rail will pass at all. (Streetsblog)

An Extraneous Park

The park’s rendering. Photo by Jessica Mullins of San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch

On Saturday, the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce announced that George Lucas had given some downtown land to them. The vacant building would be torn down and a park, complete with statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones, would be erected in its place.

Perhaps I’m a curmudgeon to think so, but this doesn’t seem like the best idea.

The Rundown

George Lucas owns 535 San Anselmo Avenue, a one-story, roughly 6,000 square-foot building with three retail spaces (parcel number 007-213-24, if you care about such things). The 1970s-era building opens onto the police parking lot in the rear and lies adjacent to Town Hall. According to Patch, Lucas was approached by the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce to donate the land and building, together worth about $2 million, for a park.

Lucas agreed, and now planning is on the way to transfer the land, demolish the buildings, and build a new park in downtown. The chamber is thrilled. Its president, Connie Rogers, told Patch, “This is going to be great for the city. It will increase revenues for the merchants and bring people to the town center.”

For those of you who don’t know, George Lucas is a San Anselmo local. He’s been heavily involved with town improvements, and you can see the results along Miracle Mile in front of United Markets. The recent demolition of the very old Amazing Grace Music building and the renovated replacement just up the median is his handiwork.

In a much more high-profile case, Lucas recently pulled out of his Grady Ranch film studio project in Lucas Valley over neighborhood opposition, vowing to put affordable housing at the location instead.

More Green Isn’t Always Good

Though a park, without considering the context, can be a good thing, if we pull back our view from the site and look at all the networks in the area, it doesn’t make sense.

First, we have the parcel’s current use, as retail. San Anselmo lives on sales tax, and a large part of that comes from downtown merchants. Though a park may attract more people to downtown, it’s likely they will mostly be geeky tourists and those of a sort that see the World’s Largest Fork. The park would ride on the cachet of Lucasfilm’s characters, and it’s doubtful the tourists would generate enough revenue to offset the loss from what would be there otherwise. That space will not remain vacant forever, and when it is filled it will be more valuable as productive land than as value-enhancing park space.  Creek Park and Town Hall’s front lawn are our green spaces, and they have served well as the town’s living heart.

Even more valuable would be to demolish and rebuild as a two-story structure with housing above. The second floor could provide four to six units, depending on size, and would lock in another four to six families to do most or all of their shopping downtown, boosting sales tax for the town.

If the units are studios or one-bedrooms, both of which are in short supply in Marin, they would likely be starter units for 20-somethings that want to live in town, or empty nest units for people that want to downsize out of their family home, meaning they would add value to the school district without adding children to the district.  That brings us to San Anselmo as part of the regional housing market. George Lucas wants to build houses in Grady Ranch; why not focus on building them in the center of our towns instead, in places like 535 San Anselmo?

From an urban perspective, the buildings at 535 are important for the town center’s “urban room”. They’re part of the wall of interesting shops and businesses that line San Anselmo Avenue. Think about that curve in the road by Hilda’s Coffee and the feeling of security and home you get standing there. How different that is from the feeling we get on South San Anselmo Avenue!  That difference is what separates a true downtown from just another commercial strip.

Demolishing 535 would open up the room to a parking lot, giving uninterrupted views from the Coffee Roasters to Library Place and the fences behind. Though good landscaping in the park could minimize that damage, a too-open street with views of noninteractive buildings and a parking lot deadens the streetscape. Unless something else is built behind the park to interact with it and block the views, the park would likely be a loss to San Anselmo Avenue’s streetscape.

Downtown is also part of the Ross Valley Flood Protection District, and our urban core could get a major overhaul. Though it’s still in preliminary phases, the plan calls for the shops that extend over the creek, behind the Coffee Roasters, to be demolished. This would mean a new extension of Creek Park, which would render the Lucasfilm Park extraneous. Alternatively, it could mean a complete reshaping of downtown; let’s build a park if someplace needs to be demolished to keep the town safe, not just because the Chamber of Commerce thinks it’s a good idea.

This park should not go through. Despite the positives it may bring, the potential downside of a missing tooth is too great for San Anselmo to ignore. If the Chamber wants to boost business downtown, it should not do so by demolishing shops for open space. It should do so by strengthening our center and getting people to live downtown. Our merchants, and the character of our town, thrives on residents, not visitors.

A park to attract visitors instead of shops to attract shoppers would move us into a more fickle, less stable situation, and that’s a bad idea.

Mid-Week Links: Dusk

Golden Gate Beyond the Seat

You can actually enjoy the view if you let a bus driver do the driving. Photo by Orin Zebest.

It’s national Dump the Pump Day! Leave the car at home and take transit to work.

Driving to work costs you and Marin a ridiculous amount of time and money while degrading the environment. Switching to transit means you’ll have time to work on the bus or ferry and don’t have to worry about traffic. Switching to a bike means you can cancel that gym membership, and anytime you walk to or from a bus stop you’re making yourself healthier.

This year GGT and Marin Transit have made it easy to find a way to your job without 511.org (though the app is still handy). Google Maps has integrated the two agencies into its transit directions system, so you can figure out how to get where you need to go.

If you’re already at work, don’t worry; just take the bus tomorrow. Let us know how your commute goes in the comments.

Marin County

  • Tam Valley’s Evergreen sidewalk will be built. A judge threw out a lawsuit to stop the project, arguing that because the suit had come after construction had begun it wasn’t timely. Neighbors, though, have vowed to continue the fight. (IJ, @scottalonso, MV Herald)
  • It’s now legal to rent your home, or part of your home, for less than 30 days in Sausalito. The council voted to lift the prohibition in anticipation of the America’s Cup, but don’t get too comfortable. Participating homeowners need to pay for a $238 permit and collect the 12% transient occupancy tax, and the law expires in October, 2013. (Marinscope)
  • Sausalito resubmitted its draft housing element to the state with only minor tweaks and a letter addressing HCD’s criticism of the plan. Sausalito’s plan had been rejected by the state for a number of reasons, including over reliance on second units and liveabords. (Marinscope)
  • San Anselmo is pondering whether to ban chain restaurants and shops from downtown or anywhere in the town, but the existence of local chain High Tech Burrito has thrown the plans a bit of a curveball. (Patch)
  • SF Public Press has a wonderful series on Plan Bay Area and smart growth in general. So far the series has tackled local resistance to Plan Bay Area, reviews Forum’s conversation on the plan, and why smart growth actually is a good idea. Despite a half-bungled report on carrying capacity, the whole series is a must-read. If you can’t find a dead tree copy of the quarterly around, you can either wait for the slow drip of news online or just get it hand-delivered by the postman for $4. (SF Public Press, KQED)
  • Critics of Plan Bay Area ignore history when declaring Marin doesn’t grow, ignore environmentalism when declaring Marin must not grow, and ignore facts when declaring it a conspiracy at the highest levels. (Pacific Sun)
  • GGT’s @GoldenGateBus account tweeted about a bus service disruption caused by the Pier 29 fire. Though the tweet didn’t include a link to the site that actually described which stops were effected, it’s a good start and hopefully a sign of things to come. Great job, GGT! (Twitter, SFGate, GGT)
  • Go see West End at tomorrow’s Culture Crawl from 5pm-8pm. The neighborhood’s merchants see far less traffic than downtown San Rafael just over the hill, though the neighborhood is far from dull. (IJ)
  • And…: An unwalkable bit of south Novato is set to become home to 12-14 affordable housing units. (NBBJ) … County supervisors passed a $473 million budget for the year. An unallocated chunk of $22 million will be divvied up in coming weeks. (IJ) … It looks like San Rafael will pass a budget without cutting the Street Crimes Unit. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Plans for a car-free Market Street are chugging along in San Francisco under the aegis of Better Market Street. The plan would close Market from Embarcadero all the way down to Octavia, improving transit travel times and pedestrian and bicycle safety. If approved, expected opening date would be 2016. (SFist)
  • Apartments are booming in downtown Windsor with 1,200 units on track to open over the next five years. The rapid pace of development near its future SMART station has left some wondering whether the city can absorb such growth, and whether it even ought to allow it. (Press-Democrat)
  • Sacramento’s light rail now reaches its riverfront, part of a major redevelopment plan for the capital’s central neighborhoods. The city’s step is to get it over the river, though there’s no telling when the money will come in. (Sacramento Bee)
  • The next phase of the American Dreamwill not look like the last 50 years of sprawl as people finally learn what Marin knew so long ago: that the heart of a place is its downtown, not its shopping mall. (NYT)
  • The problems facing cities are as old as cities themselves. Ancient Rome had traffic jams, restrictions on freight travel within the city, noise pollution, slumlords, sky-high rents and poets to document it all. (The Iris via Planetizen)
  • A 10-story development in downtown Santa Rosa got another permit extension as developers continue to face financial problems. (Press-Democrat)

Got a tip? Tweet @theGreaterMarin, email thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com, or post something on Facebook.

Tiburon’s Transit Gets Wind in its Sails

“Coming About”, photo by Roy Tenant

Bus service in Tiburon is the worst-performing part of the Marin Transit (MT) system. Fares cover about 12% of the operating costs (the target rate is 20%), and a paltry 12 riders per hour take the bus. To address the situation, MT has begun the Tiburon Transit Needs Assessment, a process that will end with changed routes, better service, and more. The listed alternatives for improvement are a step in the right direction. Pursuing a blend of route changes, structural changes, and better transfers to 101 and the ferry will give residents and workers on the Tiburon Peninsula a better bus and attract more ridership.

What’s There Now

Tiburon is served by two bus lines, the commuter Route 8 and local Route 19, the Blue & Gold Ferry, and paratransit. Route 8 goes from Belvedere to San Francisco via 101 and carries about 57 passengers per weekday on its very few runs south. Other than school runs to Redwood High, Route 19 runs from Belvedere to Marin City via Strawberry and carries about 345 passengers per weekday and about 280 passengers per weekend.

Blue & Gold Ferry operates between Tiburon and San Francisco, a run that takes about 25 minutes. Though about double the price of Route 8, it takes half as long to reach the City which suits its well-heeled travelers fine.  Unfortunately, the ferry doesn’t accept Clipper Cards and doesn’t have timed transfers with buses in the middle of the day.

To address the problems of low ridership, MT has developed a whopping 15 proposed service changes ranging from a shorter, more frequent line to improving bicycle access. You can see all the proposals here.

There are three types of alternatives: the first deals with bus route length and frequency, the second with paratransit like dial-a-ride and taxis, and the third with non-bus transportation.  When presented with such a plethora of options, it’s good to keep in mind some core transit rules (most of which I unabashedly take from Jarrett Walker):

  1. Well-spaced high-frequency corridors that intersect in a grid and anchored at walkable destinations.
  2. Easy connections between transit modes and lines.
  3. People tend to stick with transit once they’re used to it.
  4. Pedestrian-friendly areas around stops and stations.

These fit well with some of the comments from ferry riders who were asked what would get them on the bus:

  1. Increase service frequency, especially around peak hours
  2. Closer bus stops
  3. Faster travel time (mutually exclusive with closer stops)

As of press time, the online survey wasn’t closed, so we don’t know for certain what their preferences are. However, Robert Betts, the Marin Transit planner charged with the changes, said preliminary feedback at workshops showed a strong desire for better service frequency, connectivity to schools, and improving Blue & Gold Ferry’s role in the peninsula’s transit network.

Let’s see how the alternatives stack up against the recommendations.

Fixed Route: Alternatives 1a-1e and 3a-3b

Draft alternatives. Click for full PDF.

Of the fixed route plans, none meet all the recommendations, though 1a comes closest. With 30 minute headways all day, the shuttle service (I hope they call it something that doesn’t connote the wretchedness of getting around an airport) between downtown Tiburon and Strawberry should be the backbone of Tiburon service. I’m not so enthusiastic about 1b (downtown to Marin City via Mill Valley) or 1c (downtown to Manzanita Park & Ride) mostly because of frequency and cost. Well-timed transfers could do it better.

Adding the school route of alternative 1e to Marin Catholic High School would complete the transit picture, giving kids an alternative to car ownership and taking a helluva lot of cars and their novice drivers off the road. I’m less enthusiastic about alternative 1d, which adds two rather roundabout school routes. I’d rather see them branded as school supplementary service rather than proper bus lines, and, given what they serve, I’d rather the cost come from an agency other than Marin Transit.

Unfortunately, 1a misses the connection to Highway 101. The freeway is the north-south artery of our transportation system. While some routes connect at Strawberry, Routes 18, 24, 36, 70, 71, and 80 all bypass the shopping center for the Tiburon Wye bus pads. This wouldn’t be a big deal if transfers were easy between 19 and the bus pads, but interchange’s horrid cloverleaf layout means anyone who needs to transfer between southbound 101 and the 17 must walk half a mile to make the connection. Transfers to northbound 101 aren’t bad at all, though the bus stops are just signs on poles in some ugly parking lots.

Such a poor connection dramatically reduces the route’s effectiveness.  This is a bus network after all, and network effects are powerful.

Redesigning the interchange isn’t in the scope of work, so routing has to be the solution. Alternative 1a should be modified to run buses across the overpass and turn them around just after the offramp’s intersection with E. Blithedale. There’s a parking lot there that would work well as a turnaround. Though the extra routing would add two to three minutes to the total round trip, it would dramatically improve the connection to southbound 101 and therefore the bus line’s usefulness.

Blue & Gold Ferry is the best way for residents to get to the city, bar none. It’s classy, it’s fast, it’s comfortable, and it drops people off in the heart of the financial district. It’s hindered by low frequency, high cost, and poor transfer to buses.

Alternative 3b addresses the frequency concerns. Tiburon is undergoing a downtown improvement project, which would address the car-oriented nature of most of its downtown, but adding more people to the tip of the peninsula would mean traffic hell further up Tiburon Boulevard. MT should push Blue & Gold to do more and cheaper runs to the City to support a more people-friendly downtown.

The other part of 3b would establish ferry links with Sausalito. While I appreciate the thought, the beauty of Blue & Gold’s routing is the effective express route to the City. The point of an intermediate link to Sausalito would be strictly for tourists, hindering the livability of Tiburon and therefore it’s attractiveness to tourists in the first place. If the route would function as a water taxi, I’d be concerned about profitability. Still, Blue & Gold is a for-profit company; they wouldn’t initiate a loss-making run.

Alternative 3a pushes Blue & Gold to adopt the Clipper Card, partially addressing the transfer issues between the two systems. I can’t see anything wrong with unifying fare media.

Demand-Response Service: Alternatives 2a-2e

No matter how Route 19 is changed, a good chunk of the Tiburon Peninsula will go without transit. The twisting, disconnected streets and cul-de-sacs make effective transit service impossible beyond Tiburon Boulevard, but there is still a need for transit in those areas. People with disabilities, the elderly, and others need to have a way to get around.

Demand-response service allows people to order transit so they don’t need to walk to a bus stop. The alternatives presented range from taxi vouchers to semi-fixed route service.  In honesty, I don’t know nearly enough about Demand-Response Service to assess these options in depth, but I do have some more surface-level thoughts.

Taxi vouchers (alternative 2d) may be the best way to get people out of their homes. Most of the households are the peninsula are relatively wealthy. Though sharing a ride with a number of people may be okay, I suspect taxi service would be more familiar and comfortable to elderly people from that background.

Advertising services that are already or will soon be in place makes sense no matter how you slice it, so I’m surprised alternative 2e is presented as just another option. The rest I have no meaningful way to evaluate, and none of them are part of the feedback I’ve heard from Marin Transit or the existing conditions report.

Non-Transit Solutions: Alternatives 3c-3e

These alternatives present options that don’t involve Marin Transit actually putting vehicles on the road or vouchers in peoples’ hands, and they’re all good.

Once tourists get to Tiburon, a bike would be the best way for them to get around. Alternative 3d proposes a bike share system, which would presumably be part of the San Francisco/BAAQMD system opening this fall. Such a system would be used by residents that don’t want to drive up Tiburon Boulevard and by daytrippers from San Francisco and the Peninsula, where the BAAQMD system will be implemented first. What it should not be is a single station in downtown. If sprinkled up the peninsula along Linear Park they could be used for regular trips. Adding a single station would be useless to residents.

Tourists like long, leisurely rides that don’t fit with the strictly utilitarian role of a bike share system. Bike rental kiosks (alternative 3c) would make more sense for them. Visitors could get up the peninsula to see the views across Richardson Bay or head to Tiburon Uplands.

For either type of bike system, it would reduce bicycle crowding on ferries and improve circulation around town for drivers (who wouldn’t have to deal with more cars on the road), residents, and visitors. We’ll have to wait for TAM’s report on bike share this fall, but there’s no reason Tiburon or MT couldn’t start marketing the town to bike rental shops.

Build a Better Route

Bus stops along the Tiburon Peninsula, not including Strawberry or Belvedere. Click for interactive map; click on the stop to find its characteristics.

The alternatives presented will only go so far in promoting transit use. The urban environment along the route is extremely unfriendly to bus travel. Sidewalks, crosswalks, and bus shelters along the route appear only every so often, rendering the pedestrian – as all bus riders are at some point – feeling like an interloper in a car-dominated landscape.

Improving the rider experience, no matter which mode, will make the bus feel less like a second-class form of transportation. At its least expensive, Tiburon should improve connections to frontage streets and paths where they’re lacking. Often the only safe way to bike or walk is on the frontage road, so it’s important they be connected to the stops.

Bus shelters, though more expensive than straight pavement, are important to keeping riders out of the elements. Tiburon Boulevard isn’t the most meteorologically friendly location for waiting at a bus stop, after all, and the combination of rain and the Richardson Bay winds can make umbrellas useless.

Crosswalks and sidewalks are more heavy-duty interventions but would give people better access to bus stops that may not be immediately in front of their street. If it did undertake the improvements, Tiburon would also improve access to Tiburon Linear Park and other services on the south side of Tiburon Boulevard.

The improvements to Route 19 are commendable, and integrating Blue & Gold Ferry into the public transit network will do wonders for the town. If Marin Transit pursues a short but (relatively) high-frequency bus line and creates a strong connection with 101 corridor, they’ll give Tiburon, its residents and workers, the kind of transit they want and deserve.

Expect another few public outreach sessions before the draft report is presented to the MT board at the end of the summer. Whatever the recommendations, implementation likely won’t start until the end of the year. In the mean time, take the survey, read the reports, and show up to those public meetings. You can sign up for a newsletter at the bottom of the reports page.

Where’s the Outreach?

After BART died, AC Transit had to deal with this mess.

A massive fire in Oakland blew a hole in yesterday’s commute, shutting down the Transbay Tube and leaving AC Transit and East Bay ferries to pick up the slack.

It was carmaggeddon.

Now, when something goes horribly wrong in the East Bay, Marin will often get a surge of people trying to get to the City, so I expected to hear something out of our local transit agencies. Directions, guidelines, how to go from the two BART stations GGT serves to San Francisco.

Instead, I heard crickets. Absolute silence.

Located as I am in Washington, DC, I’m forced to comment on what I read rather than on what I hear. I have contacts in a few agencies (and if you ever have a tip make sure to email me at thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com), but for the most part I’m on Twitter and news sites. So when I heard that transbay was down I jumped online to see what the contingency plans were. It was around 6am for the Bay Area, so things were just starting to heat up. AC Transit had been called into service, every ferry in the various East Bay fleets were called up and Golden Gate Transit’s website was overloaded.

Clearly there was demand for information and a demand for a better way to cross the Bay. People who are used to BART and AC Transit wouldn’t know how to get to the City without one of those two means of transportation. I stepped in and gave some route information on how to get to SF without using the Bay Bridge, but there wasn’t anything for them directly.

The point of a Twitter account, and GGBHTD has three (bridge, bus, and ferry), is to disseminate information in a timely fashion. In Washington, DC, Twitter is a vital link for riders of our subway system and our bus system. Just this past year, the local transit agency began tweeting bus delays. Since the line is manned by an actual person, the agency can answer short questions from riders, activists, and journalists easily. In smaller agencies, Twitter and other channels are used to communicate moved stops, service disruptions, severe delays, and emergency notifications, though they may not be able to afford a full-time social media staffer.

Compare this to GGT and Marin Transit. @GGBridge’s last tweet was June 1, @GoldenGateBus’s last tweet was May 22, @GoldenGateFerry’s last tweet was June 13, and @MarinTransit’s last informational tweet was July 29, 2010. This is unacceptable. Marin Transit has ongoing meetings regarding Tiburon’s transit needs and has made major route changes since 2010, while Golden Gate Transit often faces delays and service disruptions as it moves people through the region.

If Marin Transit and GGT want to be taken seriously as a viable means of transportation in Marin, it needs to step up its game. When an emergency strikes, they should be ready to provide direction. When there are disruptions, meetings, or route changes, they should make an announcement through all modes of communication available. Anything less does disservice to the system and riders.

Mid-Week Links: Reclamation

Fairfax Festival  MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

People enjoying closed streets at the Fairfax Festival. Photo by MichaelOlsen/ZorkMagazine

Marin County

  • Fairfax is hashing out how to implement Streets for People, its own version of San Francisco’s incredibly successful Sunday Streets program. The town would close Bolinas for part of the day, opening it up to anyone on foot, bike, or other human-powered conveyance. (Patch)
  • New blood on the Ross Valley Sanitary District board promises a management and policy shift. New member Mary Sylla is opposed to new bonds and rate hikes intended to speed the district’s century-long pipe replacement cycle. Marcia Johnson, who lost her re-election bid, was a supporter. (IJ)
  • Tonight, chat with Blithedale Terrace developer Phil Richardson about his proposed 20-unit condo development in lower Mill Valley7pm, The Forest Room of the Mill Valley Community Center. (Patch)
  • A new sidewalk is under construction in Homestead Valley’s Evergreen Avenue under the county’s Safe Routes to School program. People still don’t like the plan, saying it undermines the community’s semi-rural character. There may be an injunction filed to stop the project, which is designed make the route to school safer. (IJ, @mikesonn, Mill Valley Herald)
  • A new Santa Venetia subdivision will not go forward as planned, at least not yet. County Supervisors rejected the 14-unit sprawl project pending a few more months of study. Unfortunately, the area is zoned for 15 units on one-acre plots, so it’s unlikely the project can be stopped entirely. (IJ)
  • Ever wondered how much your town’s Director of Public Works was paid? Bay Area News Group has created a searchable database of all public employee salaries in the Bay Area, so you can know at last. (IJ)
  • Ross faces dramatic cuts now that the town declined to pass the $642,000 public safety tax. Two police officers, a firefighter, and a firefighting apprenticeship program are all on the chopping block. The town will cut other areas to keep the damage minimal. (Ross Valley Reporter)
  • The draft Civic Center Station Area Plan has been released to the public and to the Board of Supervisors, who are reviewing the draft now. The plan creates more housing, rezones parts of the auto-oriented neighborhood, and creates a better pedestrian circulation pattern through the area. (Pacific Sun)
  • And…: A yard that has encroached on open space for more than 20 years will finally be returned to San Rafael, though the owners have a history of ignoring officialdom on the subject, so who knows? (IJ) … In a picture of sweetness and light, a Corte Madera father and daughter spent the whole school year biking in tandem to kindergarten. (Twin Cities Times) … Brad Breithaupt goes deeper into the voting numbers from last Tuesday’s election. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • A comprehensive report on San Francisco’s multifaceted and crowded transit system has been released. The 103-year-old report details the pre-Muni world of streetcars and rails in the aftermath of the earthquake and fire. Among the recommendations? Getting rid of horse-drawn cars. (Muni Diaries)
  • Apple will stop using Google Maps on its iPhones, and it won’t include transit directions. You may have to go back to using that 511.org app… (Streetsblog)
  • It turns out Muni has been neglecting maintenance for years as the agency has sacrificed long-term financial stability for short-term savings. Be glad you have GGT managing your fleet, Marin. (SF Weekly)
  • A bill to create a statewide ceiling on parking requirements around transit has shown signs of life in the state Senate. AB 904 would force localities to require no more than one parking space per housing unit, 1,000 square feet of retail, or other measures. (Around the Capitol via @MarketUrbanism and @mottsmith)
  • If you want to encourage transit ridership, the best way is to price driving. While expanding a rail network by 10% nets a 3% gain in ridership, effective car regulations (like congestion pricing) nets a 10-20% increase in ridership and a commensurate decrease in driving. (Atlantic Cities)
  • And…: Santa Rosa mulls electing its councilmembers by district rather than at-large. (Press-Democrat) … The small-government aspects of smart growth appeal to at least some conservatives. (Next American City) … Frank Lloyd Wright hated cities. (Atlantic Cities)

Got a tip? Tweet @theGreaterMarin, email thegreatermarin [at] gmail.com, or post something on Facebook.

Don’t Cut the Street Crimes Unit

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photo by Phil Philms via Flickr

Last Monday, San Rafael staff submitted their proposed budget. Among the cuts is a $380,000 item to cut the San Rafael Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit. Two of the four officers charged with this task are retiring, and the proposal on the table would leave those two positions open. The remaining two officers would be rolled into the general SRPD patrol force, leaving them to react to crime that happens rather than intercept crime before it happens.

This is a problem.

SCU is a division of the San Rafael Police Department (SRPD) that proactively addresses criminality, from vagrancy to vandalism to gang violence. Their mission is to make the streets safer for residents and businesses by working with federal and state law enforcement, building relationships with communities, and intercepting crime before it becomes a problem.

Units like SCU are vital to a city’s crime-fighting force. A proactive approach shines a light into the darker places of a city, ensuring that even crimes that occur in private are addressed, even if nobody calls it in to 911. This takes pressure off 911 and patrols who otherwise have to deal with the results of those private crimes: drugs, gangs, vandalism, and a general feeling of lawlessness that breeds more crime.

Tamping down on the reactive arrests reduces costs to the county by reducing the number of arrests and the severity of the crimes, meaning fewer and lighter prison sentences and less complicated prosecutions.

San Rafael does have these problems. It’s home to two rival gangs, the Norteños in Terra Linda and Novato, and the Sureños in the Canal, and it’s likely they were involved in a Gerstle Park gang killing last year. A recent crackdown on crime in eastern downtown led to 79 arrests for everything from vandalism to drugs, while downtown merchants south of Fourth often report shady goings-on by their stores.

By keeping crime at a minimum, San Rafael will be helping its merchant core, ensuring demand for new retail and boosting sales taxes at existing places of business.  Though downtown is most visible to Marinites, boosting business in the Canal also requires pushing out criminality and fostering a sense of safety for merchants and shoppers.

Cutting SCU would be a mistake. The institutional knowledge of the force would wear away while under the aegis of general patrol, while the crime addressed by SCU would rise. Though it may save money in the short-term, cutting SCU would mean a less vibrant downtown and lower tax receipts. San Rafael is right to find ways to balance its budget, but it shouldn’t do so by eating its seed corn.

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